Landlords who own rental properties have a lot on their plate. They deal with all sorts of problems including tenants who are late on their payments, get into disputes with neighbors, purposely damage the property, and much more.
One serious problem that landlords face is dealing with a tenant who is a hoarder. Hoarding can result in property damage and clutter buildup which, in turn, can contribute to serious health risks due to mold, bacteria, and animal waste.
Discovering that your tenant is a hoarder can be stressful. In this article, we will discuss the steps you can take to protect your rental investment without getting yourself in legal trouble.
What is Hoarding?
Hoarding has been recognized as a mental disorder. Hoarders excessively accumulate items that other people would throw away. They have a difficult time parting ways with their belongings, leading to a buildup of clutter in their home, often affecting how they live. People with this disorder do not get rid of their belongings for several reasons including sentimental value, the feeling of needing it in the future, and so on.
Under the Fair Housing Act, hoarders cannot be denied tenancy by their landlords. Hoarding is not recognized as a valid reason for evicting a tenant, either. Doing so can be considered discriminatory against persons with mental disabilities.
Is Your Tenant a Hoarder or Just Messy?
It is, however, crucial to tell the difference between a hoarder and a messy person. Many tenants, especially student tenants, are just extremely messy. They might have piles of pizza boxes scattered outside their front door, but that does not instantly make them a hoarder. If a tenant is simply a “slob”, you simply need to ask them to tidy up.
Hoarding involves more than just clutter. You can usually identify a hoarder by the number of items they have on the property, as well as the type of objects that they collect. If their belongings are blocking exits and entrances, attracting critters, or creating a safety hazard, you may be dealing with a hoarder. Also, if a tenant hesitates to throw away items such as used paper cups, old newspapers, etc., he/she is likely a hoarder.
What Should You Do if a Tenant is a Hoarder?
#1 Contact the Tenant
Get in touch with the tenant as soon as possible. If you receive complaints from other tenants that he/she is hoarding, it’s best to address the issue before it escalates. Remind the tenant of their obligations under the terms of the lease, such as keeping the property clean at all times. There may be other reasons for the mess — he/she may just be doing some spring cleaning! Give the tenant whom you suspect is a hoarder an opportunity to resolve the matter.
In this case, you should consider hiring a property management company to keep an eye on the tenant. Property managers can follow up with the tenant to know whether he/she has attempted to clean up the place.
#2 Offer Solutions
Maybe your tenant needs more storage space to keep their stuff! Consider how you can help your hoarding tenant. Is there a storage shed in the backyard that they can use? Would it be possible to upgrade to a tankless water heater to free up space in the basement?
Extending a helping hand can help your tenant see that you truly care for their well-being. Remember, it can be extremely difficult to convince a hoarder to throw away their belongings. The best you can do is to help them store their things in a safe, clean, and organized manner.
#3 Take Proper Documentation
If the hoarder-tenant refuses to oblige with the terms of the lease, you may have to evict them. Before starting the eviction process, it’s best to prepare proper documentation, including pictures, videos, and reports of the property’s condition. Keep records of all of your communication with the hoarder-tenant including telephone logs, emails, and text messages. If you have a property manager, he/she can ensure that everything is documented for you.
This documentation can prove to the court that you exhausted all means necessary to resolve the issue with the hoarder-tenant. Since the tenant signed the lease, agreeing that he/she would keep the unit clean and safe, evicting a hoarder due to violations on the terms of the lease is valid.
#4 Call Professionals on Hoarding
If you want to avoid the long legal process of tenant eviction, you should consider calling in professionals for help. Some psychologists specialize in hoarding disorders. Since people who struggle with hoarding do not realize that they have a problem, you may need the help of professionals to help them understand their disorder.
Often, these specialists also offer cleaning services that are designed specifically for hoarders. When cleaning a hoarder’s residence, there are ways to properly approach the situation — one which will not put the hoarder in distress.
Why are Lease Agreements so Important?
As the property owner and landlord, you have the right to include certain provisions in the lease agreement. This offers protection, should your hoarder-tenant file a case against you for eviction.
Under the lease agreement, you should clearly state that all tenants are responsible for cleaning up clutter within and surrounding their unit. You should also require all tenants to regularly dispose of their trash in the designated bins. Clearly state in the lease agreement that these rules are meant to protect the health and safety of other residents.
Before leasing the property to anyone, it’s also best to screen the tenant beforehand. While you can’t deny tenancy to someone with a hoarding disorder, knowing their history allows you to educate them better on the terms of the lease. Make sure that the tenant knows exactly what is expected of them from the start.
If you’re looking for help in dealing with tenants who have hoarding disorders, consider hiring a property manager from Luxury Property Care. We have a team of dedicated attorneys who can help you navigate this complex situation, keeping your real estate investment safe.